We’ve had a few days to digest the 49ers’ draft picks, so let’s grade them.
And let’s include the trades for Dee Ford, Emmanuel Sanders and Trent Williams, because the 49ers used picks from this draft to acquire each of them.
I’ll grade the picks individually, then give a composite grade at the end.
Round 1: Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.
The 49ers took Kinlaw after trading down from pick 13 to pick 14 and acquiring a fourth-rounder from the Bucs. That was a good trade. And Kinlaw is a good player. He’s similar to Arik Armstead, whom the 49ers drafted with the 17th pick in 2015.
Like Armstead, Kinlaw is a powerful defensive lineman and an excellent athlete with big-time potential. But Kinlaw isn’t DeForest Buckner. And the 49ers essentially traded Buckner for Kinlaw, because Buckner was too expensive for them.
Buckner had 10.5 sacks his senior season at Oregon, then instantly became the 49ers’ best defensive player as a rookie in 2016. Kinlaw had 10 sacks during his entire collegiate career. He won’t make the same impact Buckner made.
And Kinlaw has knee tendinitis. That’s a degenerative condition. It probably won’t get better. During the draft, the NFL Network reported more than one team had concerns that both Kinlaw’s knees could become arthritic in the future.
Kinlaw is a good player. But he comes with health and longevity questions. Plus he comes at the expense of Buckner, a trade the 49ers just can’t win.
Grade: C Plus.
Round 1: Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
Another good player. Reminds me of Hakeem Nicks, who was a No. 1 wide receiver for the Giants briefly until injuries shortened his career. Like Nicks, Aiyuk has long arms and can make difficult catches away from his body. And he’s a monster after the catch.
But the 49ers traded up for Aiyuk. And they probably didn’t have to. They used the fourth-round pick they acquired when trading down for Kinlaw, packaged that with a fifth-rounder plus the 31st pick, and sent all three to the Vikings for pick 25. The 49ers used three picks to jump five teams, and none of them ended up taking a wide receiver.
Aiyuk probably would have been available at 31.
And even if he wasn’t available, other excellent wide receivers were. I’m talking Tee Higgings, Michael Pittman Jr. and Denzel Mims. This was the deepest wide-receiver class in a long time -- no need to fall in love with one and trade up to get him. Good wide receivers practically were falling from the sky like manna.
And wide receiver wasn’t the 49ers’ biggest need, anyway. Cornerback was. The 49ers have zero corners signed past 2020, and zero corners who seem like future Pro Bowlers. They could have traded down from pick 31 and drafted a quality corner in Round 2.
But they traded up for Aiyuk. And he’s a good player. I just question how they got him.
Grade: B Minus.
Round 2: Defensive end Dee Ford.
The 49ers traded their 2020 second-round pick last year to the Chiefs for Ford. And when he was on the field for the 49ers, their defense was great. And when he was off the field, the defense wasn’t nearly as good. He was important.
But he was off the field quite often. He played only 22 percent of the defensive snaps. He’s not a starter, because he’s a liability against the run. And he has knee tendinitis, like Kinlaw. Except Ford is 29. His knee is worse than Kinlaw’s.
And Ford is expensive. The 49ers will pay him $14.3 million this year. He’s way too expensive to play only 22 percent of the defensive snaps. Meaning the 49ers could cut Ford after next season. Then they could draft a young speed rusher to do what Ford does for much cheaper.
Ford is a good player when healthy, but that’s a rare occurrence. Which means this was a bad trade. Not a failure, because he makes an impact now and then. But a bad trade.
Round 3: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
The 49ers traded their third-round pick to the Broncos before last season’s trade deadline for Sanders. And he made an immediate impact on the offense.
Sanders instantly developed chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo, became the leader of the wide receivers and helped Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne become consistent contributors.
Sanders made the 49ers’ legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They probably would not have made that game without him.
But toward the end of the season and during the playoffs, the 49ers began to phase out Sanders from their offense, because Shanahan called so many runs. And then, the 49ers let Sanders walk during free agency. So he was a one-year rental. And he didn’t bring the 49ers a Super Bowl trophy.
Still, trading for Sanders was the right move at the time.
Round 5: Offensive tackle Trent Williams.
The best left tackle in football fell into the 49ers’ lap.
Joe Staley abruptly retired, so the 49ers needed a new left tackle. And Washington was willing to trade Williams, because he had refused to play for the past season and a half. He wanted out.
Washington traded him to the 49ers for a fifth-round pick in 2020 and a third-rounder in 2021. The 49ers basically stole Williams. He will make the offense much better, if he’s healthy.
Remember, Williams hasn’t played in a year and a half. And he hasn’t played a full season since 2013. And he will be a free agent in 2021, and he will be extremely expensive. So he might leave the 49ers after just one season.
Still, big upgrade. Great trade.
Round 5: Offensive tackle Colton McKivitz.
The 49ers wanted someone to compete with Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton at right guard. McKivitz fills that need.
But again, cornerback is the bigger need. Corner is a much more important position than right guard. And Brunskill played well last season.
Instead of taking McKivitz, the 49ers could have taken Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall, who went five picks later to the New York Jets.
McKivitz wasn’t a bad pick, but he wasn’t a good pick, either.
Round 6: Tight end Charlie Woerner.
Woerner will replace Levine Toilolo as the 49ers’ blocking tight end. And Woerner will be a major upgrade.
Woerner hits hard like George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk. And Woerner can back up both players, can play tight end or fullback. Which makes him valuable to the 49ers. Last season, both Kittle and Juszczyk missed games, and they’re the 49ers’ best run-blockers. If either gets hurt next season, Woerner can step in and the run game won’t suffer.
No team drafts better during late rounds than the 49ers.
Round 7: Wide receiver Jauan Jennings.
Another brilliant late-round draft pick.
Jennings is a 6’3” slot receiver who makes leaping catches over the middle, then breaks tackles when he has the ball. He can improve the 49ers’ red-zone offense.
And he can play running back. Tennessee used him as a Wild Cat quarterback near the goal line, and he was a powerful short-yardage runner.
And he can throw. He was a quarterback in high school, and he threw two touchdown passes in college. He reminds me of Mohamed Sanu, another big, gadget player who played for Shanahan on the Falcons in 2016.
So what’s the 49ers overall grade-point average for this draft?
GPA: 3.0 = B.
The 49ers had a typical 49ers draft. It was pretty good. They made some questionable moves early on, then redeemed themselves later, as they’ve done in the past.
Are Kinlaw or Aiyuk foundational players? Probably not. The 49ers haven’t done a great job drafting those in Round 1. The only foundational players they currently have are Nick Bosa and George Kittle, a former fifth-round pick. And Perhaps Jimmy Garoppolo if he continues to improve.
The 49ers don’t have the strongest foundation. What makes them special is their depth. Every time someone gets hurt, the 49ers have a backup who is just as good or better
Tevin Coleman was a disappointment last season, but the 49ers had Raheem Mostert, who was better. Kwon Alexander tore his pec midseason, but the 49ers had a rookie named Dre Greenlaw, who was better. Ahkello Witherspoon injured his foot Week 3, but the 49ers had former undrafted free agent Emmanuel Moseley, who was better. Dante Pettis flopped, but the 49ers had another undrafted free agent, Kendrick Bourne, who was better.
And on and on and on.
The 49ers increased their depth this year with two great late-round picks. Plus they landed the best left tackle in football, if only for a year.
Pretty, pretty good.